Jolie breast-feeding photo: triumph or trouble?

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A magazine cover photo of Angelina Jolie breast-feeding one of her newborn twins may have turned the superstar actress into a role model for new mothers.

Angelina Jolie (R) holds hands with Brad Pitt after the screening of "The Exchange" by U.S. director Clint Eastwood at the 61st Cannes Film Festival in this file photo from May 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The photo, taken by Jolie’s partner Brad Pitt, will adorn the November issue of W magazine. Other family pictures taken by Pitt in the weeks after the birth in July of twins Vivienne Marcheline and Leon Knox will appear inside.

“I think it is fabulous. Seeing a celebrity like Angelina Jolie breast-feed can be a role model to encourage women to make a choice that is wonderful for their baby,” said Andi Silverman, mom of two and author of “Mama Knows Breast.”

“Breasts are used to sell all sorts of products, so to see them used the way nature intended can only be a great thing,” Silverman told Reuters.

But while breast-feeding support groups and moms celebrated Jolie’s public statement, one expert said the picture felt like voyeurism, especially given Jolie’s sex symbol status in movies like “Wanted” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”.

About 70 percent of American mothers breast-feed their newborns but the rate falls dramatically after six months, according to official figures.

Jolie, 33, is not the first celebrity to be photographed nursing her baby. Model Jerry Hall appeared on the pages of Vanity Fair in 1991 breast-feeding Gabriel, her son with Mick Jagger.

But that was a generation ago, and Jolie’s global influence as a style-setter and through her humanitarian travels and support of kids in third world countries, ensured the impact of the photo of her special moments with her baby.

“The response from moms we have seen is that if someone as popular, beautiful and together as Angelina is breast-feeding her children, it inspires other women to do so themselves,” said Dr Shannon Fox, a psychotherapist with the website.

Little is seen in the picture of the act of breast-feeding. It shows Jolie smiling, while a tiny hand is just visible at bottom of the frame.

But Fox said the cover photo sends a second message.

“The problem is that she is also an international sex symbol. So whether or not she says ‘This is a beautiful way of nurturing my baby’, every man who sees that photo will see those breasts as sexual.”

La Leche League International, the world’s oldest breast-feeding support organization, said the photo was particularly welcome as Jolie has twins.

“Mothers of twins report it takes a lot of time, effort and physical energy to breast-feed. I think the picture is beautiful,” said La Leche League International spokeswoman Jane Krouse.

Editing by Philip Barbara